“Seems we broke down somewhere on the yellow brick road.”
Among cinema’s most passionate romances, David Lynch’s southern “road picture” Wild at Heart (Palme d’Or, Cannes) tests a number of assumptions and activities, their interactivity and mutual compatibility, in the American landscape: individualism, personal freedom, social compassion, violence and other antisocial behavior (including ultra-liberated sex), medieval European chivalry, the baggage of violation and haunted memory, popular culture as represented, for example, by Elvis Presley and The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, King Vidor, 1939). Lynch thus adapted the first of the Sailor-Lula novels by Barry Gifford, who would co-write with Lynch Lost Highway (1997). Despite an unhelpful inserted bit here and there, Wild at Heart is Lynch’s first masterpiece.
The tenderness of the young lovers (Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern—he is okay; she, electric) gives Lynch’s film its beautiful ache, while the interference of Lula’s murderous mom (played brilliantly by Dern’s mother, Diane Ladd), Marietta Fortune, who fears Sailor Ripley’s knowledge of her role in Lula’s father’s fiery dispatch and who, in some twisted way, loves Sailor as much as despises him, turns the young couple’s dreamy partnership into a horror stamped with her own witchly image. Something else intrudes, turning nighttime to nightmare: a horrific road accident. Here, Sailor and Lula witness the death of a girl, awakening their caution and compassion. Lynch’s film embraces the agony of life and death, including the memory of an abortion that Mom forced upon Lula, which impacts Lula’s current pregnancy.
This wonderful film, which includes irreplaceable performances by Harry Dean Stanton and Isabella Rossellini as Johnnie Farragut and Perdita Durango underneath an ill-fitting wig, treats hot-button issues in purely human, humane terms and wallops the heart with an ending that always moves me to pure joy.
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